Internship reflections – Charlotte Lee

Charlotte Lee, a postgraduate researcher from the second SUPER DTP cohort, undertook a 3-month internship in 2023 with MiAlgae, a company whose aim is to eliminate reliance on wild-caught fish as a source of Omega-3 by harnessing the potential of microalgae as a sustainable alternative.

MiAlgae’s three interns at their offices in Edinburgh. Charlotte is standing in the middle.

Charlotte shares her reflections on the experience below.

What reasons did you have for undertaking an internship?

Curiosity and/or personal interest, as a requirement to enter a particular profession, improve employability, and help with research and development.

What gains did you hope to achieve from undertaking an internship, and what benefits did you actually receive? 

[I hoped to gain] insight into what it would be like to use my skills outside academia and work in industry. Also, to increase my employability through the formation of industry connections and the ability to add this experience to my CV. Otherwise, I was also hoping to get my foot in the door with MiAlgae as a company I had heard very good things about. 

In practice, I learned a great deal of the different approaches that a company like this will take to research compared to academia, and the differences in work-life balance between academia and industry. I also noticed how easily transferable my (molecular / microbiology) skills were, and what the outputs of that kind of work looks like. I met a number of forward-thinking people during my internship who I will keep in contact with. I was therefore very fortunate in that I achieved all my goals through this internship. 

Overall, how satisfied were you with the process of setting up your internship?

[I am] satisfied.

I set up my internship almost entirely independently. I had looked at multiple pre-constructed internships before I found MiAlgae, though none of these met my needs. I eventually began to search for companies that I might like to work for in the future after some reflection on what I wanted to do after the PhD. It was at this time that I overheard a professor at my institution talking about MiAlgae (which was already on my list), so I was able to discuss the possibility of an internship with MiAlgae before approaching the company. I then contacted the company directly and set up an interview with relative ease.

Once I successfully landed a place there for 3-months, I was able to utilise my funding from SUPER and apply for the EBNet Placement Award (which I had found when looking for internships) to arrange funding for the time I was to take leave from the PhD.

This process took a great deal of time, but the successful interview and grant application process is certainly something I will now add to my CV.

Would you recommend an internship to other PGRs? 

Yes. If arranged properly, it will not take away from your PhD, and will certainly improve your job prospects after the PhD. This has already made my final year much less stressful. I also know what career I would like to pursue after the PhD.

Looking back over your experience, are there any positive or negative aspects you would like to highlight?

Negative – It was very stressful making sure I had all the money I needed before starting the internship and pausing the PhD. Coordinating multiple pots of money through one ‘distributor’ (Stirling’s finance department) is not easy.  

Positive – Meeting a great team of like-minded people in the city that I now live. Being welcome to come back to hot-desk when writing my thesis (and socialise). Learning new skills in an understanding and well- paced environment. Having industry experience to now add to my CV. The feeling of achievement to have contributed to the functioning of a up-and-coming company and their facilities.